Sanders Memorial Invitational tips off Thursday at Farmington High

Steven Bortstein
Farmington Daily Times

FARMINGTON — The six teams invited to take part in this week's Marv Sanders Memorial Invitational will compete in a format untraditional to most basketball tournaments.

The tournament, which begins Thursday at 4 p.m. at the Scorpion Arena, will feature a six-team, round-robin format, with the tournament winner being declared by most wins as well as factors including head-to-head matchups as well as average margins of victory.

In addition to the host team, boys basketball squads from Durango, Gallup, Bloomfield, Shiprock and Navajo Prep will compete in the tournamentp, which is scheduled to tip off Thursday at 4 p.m. when Gallup faces Durango in the opening game.

Much of the reason for the format change in 2019 and again this year has been because of some teams' inability to commit to the tournament.

"It's disappointing for sure, but we're finding a way to turn it into a positive," said Farmington boys head basketball coach Larry Chitty. "Some of it this year was due to COVID and some of it has been for different reasons."

What the tournament may lack in the presence of a deeper bracket, it more than makes up for with a number of high quality teams.

The Scorpions are unbeaten in three games this season, while Shiprock recently took top honors in their own invitational tournament, beating Navajo Prep earlier this month in the Shiprock Invitational championship game with a buzzer-beater by Jalen Wero.

More:Navajo Prep, Shiprock earn tournament victories in busy prep basketball weekend

Durango (5-2) is off to a fast start and have won four of their last five games. The Demons are led by senior Anthony Flint, averaging 14 points per game this season. 

Gallup (1-2) has faced some strong competition in their first three games, and does have an impressive 73-63 win over Belen earlier this month on their resumé.

The Demons and Bengals game will begin tournament play, followed by Bloomfield vs. Navajo Prep, with the Thursday nightcap featuring the Scorpions facing Shiprock.

"It'll be great for the local teams and their fans to see them in action," Chitty said. "We tried to make it so the teams playing this week aren't so familiar with each other in district play. I like it where it's a lot of local teams."

Navajo Prep's Orion King goes up for a shot against Aztec defenders Isaiah Parra (11) and Aidan Lee (12) during a game on Tuesday, Dec. 7, 2021 in Lillywhite Gym at Aztec High School.

Farmington has gotten off to a strong start to the season, most recently coming off a victory at home Tuesday night over Bloomfield by a final of 60-44.

Cayden Yazzie led the Scorpions with 22 points in the win, while Cody Vassar-Steen chimed in with 10 points.

"This was a good win over a very well-coached team," Chitty said. "(Yazzie) really carried us offensively at times, and I thought our bench gave us great energy."

Before Tuesday night's victory, the Scorpions traveled to Bronco Arena last week, defeating Kirtland Central by a final of 62-47. The Scorpions kicked off the season Nov. 26 with a 62-56 win at Los Lunas. 

More:Scorpions and Panthers basketball teams pick up breakout victories

"We play young still, maybe it's just early in the season," Chitty said. "It's tough in this part of the state finding (Class) 5A teams to compete with, but I'm excited to see what we do this week."

Farmington will face Durango on Friday night and Gallup on Saturday in the final game of the tournament, which will tip off immediately after a tribute to the late Marv Sanders, who coached the Scorpions to two state championships during a career that spanned more than four decades.

One of the more intriguing games of the tournament may be Saturday's matchup between Navajo Prep and Shiprock, scheduled to begin at noon. The two teams have met twice, with Shiprock winning the first meeting in the finals of the Chieftain Invitational before last weekend, when Navajo Prep blew out Shiprock 67-37.

The Eagles (4-2) lost their final tune-up before the Scorpion Invitational, falling to Kirtland Central on Tuesday night by a final of 54-42.

Steve Bortstein can be reached via email at SBortstein@Gannett.com, via Twitter @DTSBortstein or on the phone at (505) 635-2680.